Once a decade, the picturesque alpine village of Oberammergau put's on its world-famous performance of the Passion Play.

June 28, 2017 by Ross Cooper

F irst performed in 1634, the Oberammergau (Ober-am-er-gow) Passion Play was the result of a vow made by the inhabitants of the Bavarian town. The story of the Passion Play begins with a local, returning to the town for Christmas and accidentally bringing the plague with him.

An artists rendition of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ perfomed by Joseph Mair

The resident in question, died and then the bubonic plague start ravaging the local populace. The death rate amongst adults rose dramatically, so the town vowed that if God spared them, they would produce a play there after depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ. The plague subsided and the town made good on their promise, producing the first play in 1634. 

The play is now performed during every year that ends with a zero, with over 2,000 performers, musicians and stage technicians being involved. The cast and crew predominantly come from the town, with the roles and job's being seen as a huge honour for anyone cast in them and with some people specifically travelling back from overseas to take part. All of the actors of the world's largest amateur dramatic performance, come from the village, due to a special play law. However any actor taking on the role of Jesus, Mary or Judas must have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years.

The old theatre

Oberammergau's original parish church, proved far too small for performances of the Passion Play, so it was decided to hold the play in the graveyard of the church, before the graves of the villagers who had died in the plague. The fame of the Play, spread and be the middle of the 18th century the graveyard was too small for the crowds attending and was moved to a nearby farm, where a custom stage would be built each year.

It wasn't until 1890 that a new purpose-built theatre was built, that aside from some cosmetic changes, would appear very similar to how it does now. Ready for the 1900 performance, the new theatre could hold 4000 spectators.

 

Any actor taking on the role of Jesus, Mary or Judas must have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years.

 

Passion Play Theatre

Starting on the 16th of May 2020, the 42nd Passion Play expects 450,000 visitors over the 5 month season, with over half of which, will be international guests. Continuing almost without interruption for over 380 years, the traditions of this world-wide phenomenon are once again available to enjoy.

If you are interested in viewing the world famous Passion Play in 2020, find out more information below:

Passion Play